If you’re on Facebook, I’m sure you’ve had discussions with your friends as I have about how we work so hard (consciously or subconsciously) to make our lives look great to others on these public forums. A friend of mine said “I wish my life were as fabulous as it looks on Facebook!” I laughed hard, but knew it was true.
Recently, I learned of the powerful work of Glennon Doyle Melton, and ever since I did, I’ve been very compelled by her messages. In her conversation with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday, and her TEDx talk Lessons From the Mental Hospital, and in her bestselling books, she reveals in a stunning, breathtaking way how inauthentic (avoiding telling the raw truth) the vast majority of people on this planet are, not because they want to be liars or withholders, but because they’re deathly afraid to be real.
If you stop and think about it, you’ll realize too that so very few people really tell the raw, humbling and hard truth – about themselves, their lives, their struggles. Why? Because we’re taught it’s not safe to share the realness of our challenges, and we’re scared to be ostracized and judged. And from a societal perceptive, it isn’t safe. We are scorned, rejected and alienated when we do.
But millions of Glennon’s followers and readers, and the amazing tribe that Brené Brown and other inspiring, truth-revealing thought leaders have built, validate the idea that so many millions of people today feel disenfranchised as human beings – they feel alone with their pain and vulnerability – and they desperately want that to change. I know I was afraid to reveal my true self, until I “braved up” and started sharing my raw truth publicly.
When I first began public speaking 10 years ago and talked about the 12 “hidden” crises I had faced, and what so many other working women experience, the thing attendees shared most often with me about my talks was this: “Kathy, you’re so authentic.” I remember feeling floored by this. For the first few months, I’d scratch my head after every talk, and I really wondered about it. What did they think was so authentic?
Four realizations began to dawn on me:
• Being brutally honest and sharing very unflattering (and even frightening and socially unacceptable) things about our lives and experiences is highly unusual
• Doing so allows others to do so
• People are desperate for more realness and authenticity – in themselves and in their lives
• We so very rarely come face-to-face with true authenticity and raw realness, that when we do, it’s scary and hard for us
As a therapist and coach, I’ve lived this harsh reality: We all say we want authenticity, but most people are deathly afraid of it. We run from being authentic, and of being in the presence of real, brave, uncensored truth-telling. We just don’t know how to behave or what to think. And worse, our judgments and fragile, scared egos go totally crazy. We’re overcome by the reaction of “I don’t resonate with this darkness at all, and I hate it!” I believe that so much of our fear of hearing raw truth comes from the fact that we don’t know how to be empathic. We just don’t have any idea how to step in other people’s shoes and feel what it feels like to be them. And that’s why there is so much hatred and rage in the world.
I was a sheltered kid growing up in upstate New York, and I hadn’t seen anything of the world or of real-life challenges that millions face. So when I was training as a therapist in my 40s, the single hardest and scariest thing for me was to learn how to simply “sit” with the darkest and most painful experiences of human existence– rape, incest, pedophilia, drug addiction, depression, suicidality, child abuse, etc. I learned that to be able to sit in oneness with another who was in the deepest pain, and find love and spiritual connection in my heart with this pain and this individual, was incredibly challenging because of how we’re raised, trained and conditioned. I found too, that when wecan find it in our hearts to do this – connect to that which is so deeply painful that we want to look away, and connect from the soul with others who are suffering deeply and find love, empathy and respect for them – then all the lives involved are utterly transformed.
I’d like to share three things to think about, to help you build your ability to be authentic and real – in your own life and in your relationships with others:
Learn to see and feel your judgments, then let them go.
When I was seeing a therapist myself about why I was so stuck in career directions that made me miserable, he and I talked about how many judgments I had, every single day, regarding what was “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong,” “desirable” or “undesirable,” and the list went on and on. He asked me to do one simple exercise: For the next week, simply take note of all my thoughts. Make a mental check mark every time I had a judging thought, and say to myself: “There goes one of those judging thoughts.” The exercise was designed to help me get in closer touch with what I was thinking, and realize that I am not my thoughts. I am separate from my thoughts, and therefore can change them. The first week, I realized after noting more than one thousand judging thoughts, that I barely had one thought that wasn’t a “judgment.” The problem is that judgments are the death of peace.
Tip: This week, start watching your thoughts. (The average person has about 48.6 thoughts per minute so it’s not easy, but try!). Make a mental check mark for each and every one of your thoughts that has a judgment embedded in it, and see what realizations you begin to have about the thoughts you habitually think, and what disturbs your peace, love, calm and connection to others. Then think how you might want to change those thoughts to something more loving and peaceful.
Look at what you’re so afraid of about yourself.
I gave a keynote this week for the Network of Executive Women in southern California, and we talked about our “power gaps” – the things that make us feel ashamed, vulnerable, and “less than” that suck the life energy out of us. These are our “dirty little secrets” – the aspects about us that we never want anyone to see. The reality is that all of us have power gaps (even people you think are at the top of the world). I know because I interview some of the most celebrated individuals on our planet, and yes, they have power gaps too. Our power gaps hurt us, because we tend to believe that only we have them and if anyone knew, they would cast us out of their lives.
Tip: Take some time to journal this week about your power gap(s). What makes you so ashamed of yourself? What story are you telling yourself about how you’re a loser or so different from other people for experiencing it? What do you hate about yourself because of it? Then ask yourself this: “If a friend told you this dirty secret, what would you think of them?” Send all the love in your heart to yourself and all the light you can muster directly to this power gap. Finally, take one concrete, brave step to publicly share it, then address it. But all through this, love yourself and realize you are not alone.
Realize that what you reject in others is just from fear.
I had a conversation with another friend who shared that she just doesn’t want to let in the dark and negative stuff that other people share. She doesn’t “resonate” with it and doesn’t want to focus on it. The problem with that type of thinking is that you then force yourself to reject every person on the planet who has darkness inside of them – and folks, that is everyone on the planet. Your rejection of darkness is a form of denial: “If I don’t choose to see it, then it isn’t there.” It IS there, and it’s inside of you as well, until you allow yourself to see it, feel it, send love and light to it, and face it.
This article orginally appeared in Forbes.